NBA rosters churning more than ever. How did we get here?

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video, and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Chris Webber was the prize of the NBA’s 2001 free-agent class. He was a somewhat young star – maybe even superstar – in his prime. Playing for the Sacramento Kings, he indicated interest in bigger cities. He also showed an affinity for his hometown Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers, who were coached by former Piston Isiah Thomas. It looked like a high-stakes, wide-open chase.

Webber re-signed with the Kings on a seven-year, $123 million contract, which was viewed as a massive success for Sacramento. And for a while it was. Webber led the Kings to 61 wins and Game 7 of the Western Conference finals the following season. Sacramento remained very good for a couple more seasons.

But Webber’s athleticism began to wane amid injuries. In 2005, the Kings traded him to the 76ers for a trio of players on clunky contracts – Corliss Williamson, Brian Skinner and Kenny Thomas. In 2007, Philadelphia bought out Webber with more than a season remaining on his contract.

And that’s how we got this year’s wild offseason.

Owners resented contracts like Webber’s – too expensive and maybe more importantly, too long. Webber was as good as advertised. So good, he could secure at age 28 a deal that guaranteed him a high salary well into his 30s. He just couldn’t maintain his production that long, and he was far from alone in producing that predicament. Many teams were saddled with long, onerous contracts given to formerly good players.

So, owners pushed for key changes in the 2005 and 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreements, the latter of which followed a lockout. Along with other situational differences, the landscape has transformed. Add unique choices of players and teams this summer, and we’ve never seen anything like this.

Just 57% of minutes played last season went to players who remain on the same team now. By comparison: A decade ago, 70% of minutes went to players who remained on the same team the next season.

The 57% is a soft figure. We don’t yet know who will actually play for the same team next season. Un-rostered players could still re-sign. Rostered players could still get traded or waived. But this late into the offseason, it seems about 57% of minutes last season will have gone to players who played for the same team next season.

If so, that’ll be the lowest mark in recorded NBA history.

Here’s how many minutes each season went to players who played for the same team the following season (since 1951-52, as far back as Basketball-Reference has individual minutes totals):

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While the percentage this summer created a new low, the decline isn’t linear. This year might have been somewhat of an outlier. Still, the percentage has been trending downward.

While some people in management have expressed despair about this new reality, remember, ownership-pushed policies sparked much of this. Here several key developments that led to this summer’s mass movement:

Shorter contracts

This is the simplest and biggest reason. The NBA has steadily decreased maximum contract length – from seven years if re-signing/six years if not to six/five to the current five/four. The more often players become free agents, the more often they change teams.

The owners’ goal was reducing deadweight contracts. And it worked. Players’ compensation is more closely tied to their production than previously.

But the consequence has been instability. Teams can move on from players more quickly, and – on the other side of the coin I’m not sure owners fully appreciated – players can move on from teams more quickly.

Stretch provision

The stretch provision – which allows teams to waive a player and stretch his cap hit across double the remaining years on his contract plus one – also helps teams alter rosters.

When waiving teams had take a cap hit in accordance with the player’s contract, there was less reason to waive him. The main benefit was a roster spot. But the cap hit was locked in and could become highly encumbering. It often made sense to keep negative-value players in case it made more sense to trade them later.

Now, stretching a negative-value player opens cap flexibility. Sometimes, it still makes sense to wait for a trade rather than lock in a cap hit. But there is more reason to cut loose players sooner through the stretch provision.

Rising salary cap

At the same time a larger of players are hitting free agency each year, the salary cap has significantly increased. It skyrocketed in 2016 then had a couple more years of steady growth. More teams typically have major spending more each summer.

That makes it more likely a player finds an outside situation he prefers to re-signing with his incumbent team, which typically holds advantages in paying him.

Trade relaxation

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement also loosened salary-matching parameters. With it easier to construct trades, more players get moved.

Star power

The era of stars staying put is long over. They don’t even need to wait for a perfect opportunity anymore. They can create their own pop-up super teams wherever and nearly whenever they want.

Contracts are so large either way, several stars have felt comfortable leaving money on the table – even super-max salaries – to get to their preferred destination.

With stars comprising a small portion of the league, the direct effect here is limited. But the trickle-down is large. Teams generally prioritize different types of other players when they have a star (veterans) vs. when they don’t (youngsters).

Several teams are still in the midst of that process. The Thunder traded Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but got expensive veterans like Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari whom Oklahoma City might prefer to flip. The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard but still have other members of the championship core. On the other side, teams like the Lakers could do even more to push in for the present.

The 2020 championship chase appears wide open, which already led to this movement and could inspire even more. Many teams don’t look done.

They’ll evaluate chemistry as the season unfolds. So many teams are integrating so many new pieces. It’s one of the most important themes of the season.

And beyond.

There are real questions about whether this player movement is good for the league. Will fans struggle to build a connection with their favorite team? Or are there enough fans of certain players for this not to matter much? Has competitive balance been increased or decreased?

Chatter has emerged from the team side about limiting players’ ability to switch teams. Anthony Davis‘ trade request particularly caused a fresh wound.

But these dynamics are difficult to control. Unintended consequences abound.

Just look how we got here.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.